The Victorian Coroner has found the murder of Jill Meagher was “preventable”, as her killer Adrian Ernest Bayley should never have been walking the streets.
Judge Ian Gray handed down written findings on Friday into the death of Ms Meagher, concluding the 29-year-old ABC worker died due to compression of her neck but was poorly served by a parole system that did not prioritise public safety.
The findings draw a line under one of the most high-profile murders in Victorian history.
Ms Meagher was raped and murdered by Bayley who approached her as she walked down Sydney Road in Brunswick towards her home in the early hours of Saturday, September 22, 2012.
Her death horrified but galvanised the Victorian community as tens of thousands marched in sympathy and joined in grief with her parents and husband, Tom. In June 2013, Bayley was convicted of her rape and murder and sentenced to a minimum of 35 years’ prison.
Following Bayley’s arrest the Victorian government enacted widespread law reform to tighten rules governing parole in the state. While Judge Gray found those changes were ‘significant and entirely positive’ he also said the overhaul of parole laws was still in its “early days”. In Judge Gray’s own words, Bayley was a man with a “long and disturbing history of violent and sexual offences”. He had previous convictions for rape, dating back to 1990. In 2001, Bayley was arrested and charged with 16 counts of rape against five women, offences that led to a sentence of 11 years in prison with an eight-year non-parole period.
He was released on parole in 2010 and was in the community on bail and on parole when he raped and murdered Ms Meagher in a laneway located off Hope Street.
Judge Gray found Bayley should have been returned to prison months earlier when he was on parole and was involved in an assault in Geelong that saw him convicted of recklessly causing serious injury.
The findings quote a report from Ian Callinan AC, saying “I think that the Parole Board had both cause and opportunity to cancel Bayley’s parole”.
Meanwhile, a statement from Corrections Victoria revealed that Bayley was assessed twice in February 2010, prior to being released, as having a “high” risk of sexual reoffending.
However, the Sex Offender Program database continued to record an earlier “moderate” assessment – and Bayley was not considered for additional intervention programs despite his high-risk level.
“That on its face appears to be a flaw within the system at the time,” Judge Gray said.
While the coroner decided not to hold an inquest into Meagher’s death, he said he had issued the report because her case raised “matters of public health and safety and prevention opportunities.”
“Bayley’s violent sexual offending and violent offending history and the fact that he was a prisoner on parole at the time he murdered Ms Meagher are relevant to matters of public health and safety and prevention,” he said.
“Gillian Meagher’s death was preventable. A more rigorous, risk adverse approach by CCS [Community Correctional Services] and the APB [Adult Parole Board] would have led to a cancellation of Bayley’s parole either when charged with the Geelong offence, or when convicted in the Magistrates Court.”
“It was a flawed practice as it did not bring dangerous and high risk parolees immediately to account. In this sense it appeared not to prioritise the interests of public safety.”
The coroner makes clear that under the reforms enacted since Meagher’s death Bayley’s parole would have automatically been cancelled as a consequence of being sentenced to a period of imprisonment while on parole.
Judge Gray did not make any recommendations arising from his investigation of Ms Meagher’s death, due to the recent reforms made to the parole system in the wake of a spate of murders committed by parolees – including the deaths of Sharon Siermans and Sarah Cafferkey.
The reforms include the automatic cancellation of parole in cases where a prisoner released on parole for a sexual offence or serious violence has been convicted of a sexual or violent offence during the parole period.